Sheriff David Hutchinson — a man elected by the citizens of Hennepin County who voted for him because they believed in his ability to uphold safety — got behind the wheel after drinking. He engaged in the kind of reckless behavior he is employed to confront; this is disheartening. It also helps clarify how we can increase road safety by adopting an approach that anticipates human error.
After sobering up, Hutchinson acknowledged his "inexcusable decision" ("Sheriff still in hospital, could face DWI charges," Dec. 10). When he was no longer under the influence of alcohol he was able to think a little more clearly, reflect on the situation and understand the danger that he posed to himself and others.
Alcohol impairs judgment, and for many people, it leads to increased risk-taking. Yet the laws surrounding drunken driving are blunt and relatively unforgiving, thanks in large part to the hard work and long-term advocacy of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Drunken driving laws reflect an expectation that citizens will make rational decisions about their ability to operate a vehicle safely when their brains are impaired and incapable of doing so.
Those who kill others while driving under the influence are consistently held accountable and criminally charged. Yet killing someone after choosing with an unimpaired brain to speed, drive while distracted or haul a load illegally, for example, results in wildly inconsistent outcomes; some of these reckless drivers face criminal charges, but many do not.
This has been a particularly deadly year for road fatalities throughout the United States and Minnesota. As of Dec. 9, 472 people had lost their lives on Minnesota's roads, a nearly 27% increase (representing 100 lives) over 2020 year-to-date fatalities. Our roads haven't been this deadly in well over a decade.
In response, agencies employed to address issues of road safety have flooded social media with public awareness messages. These messages can't hurt, but no amount of urging to drive sober will keep drunken drivers off our roads.
It would behoove our public safety agencies to acknowledge that humans are inherently flawed and will continue to behave in predictable ways. They'd be more effective adopting what is referred to by road-safety advocates as a "safe-systems approach" and fully endorsing in-vehicle safety technologies including passive driver-impairment-detection systems as a means to control alcohol-use behaviors. This along with forward-thinking design measures — such as narrower streets and roundabouts — that make slower, safer driving more intuitive will save more lives than public awareness campaigns.
Sheriffs are human and, with all due respect to Sheriff Hutchinson, inherently flawed. We need an approach to road safety that fully acknowledges our collective humanity.
Sarah M. Risser, Minneapolis
I am sure Sheriff Hutchinson is a fine man, and I'm gratified he was not hurt in his crash more seriously than he was. I also understand we are all human and as such subject to errors in judgment. Despite this, he must resign. As a former long-haul trucker, I can't tell you the number of times while out socializing with friends or family I passed on that second drink or didn't have the first one. I did this partly because I saw on our nation's highways the possible results of drunken driving almost monthly but, to be honest, mostly because I knew a DWI would result in the end of my professional driving career and with it, my ability to support myself. If this is the standard we hold our nation's truck drivers to, then surely this must also be the standard applied to our county's most senior law enforcement officer. Sheriff Hutchinson must resign!
Scott Beekman, Richfield
Dangerous, and sadly disengaged
I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was shocked that Tesla thinks it's OK for people to play video games on the dashboard screen of their cars while driving ("Drivers playing video games? US is looking into Tesla case," Dec. 9). First, there's the obvious safety issue — especially at a time when 1 in 10 traffic fatalities are blamed on distracted drivers (and some experts think that number could be closer to 50%). However, my equally strong knee-jerk reaction was to the fact that here is yet another opportunity for humans to disengage from the real world and withdraw into an artificial reality. (Next stop, the metaverse!) The next time you get on an elevator, observe how many people clutch their phones like a warm blankie. Being forced to make eye contact with a fellow human being? Perish the thought.
There's a great big world out there, people, and you might miss it if you're preoccupied with screens. You might also miss that amazing deer that just ran out in front of your car.
Doug deGrood, Edina
Reimagine all you want, as long as you provide the basics
I read with interest the commentary written by Robin Wonsley Worlobah, a member-elect of the Minneapolis City Council, regarding the retirement of Police Chief Medaria Arradondo ("With chief leaving, real reform must return," Opinion Exchange, Dec. 8).
First let me state that, like the chief and Wonsley Worlobah, I am firmly in the camp that believes police reform in the city of Minneapolis is long overdue. I believe the chief did the best he could to make changes while in office. But this overhaul is not an overnight process.
Second, my belief that there needed to be changes caused me to take part in several protests after the murder of George Floyd, including a march to the Police Federation in August of 2020 calling for the resignation of Bob Kroll. Like many I believed the first step to change was for the union and the Minneapolis Police Department to rid themselves of Kroll.
Much has changed in the aftermath of Floyd's murder. Some protests turned violent and were very costly to the community. Following that, the MPD lost a number of officers; some retired and some just wanted out. The MPD is down more than 200 officers and the criminals know it.
As someone who was nearly carjacked earlier this week, in broad daylight behind Penzeys Spices in Uptown, I have one question for Wonsley Worlobah: What will your vision for public safety do to address the thugs running the city? That is the immediate issue at hand. Serious solutions are needed to stop the brash lawlessness that is rampant in Minneapolis right now.
You said in your commentary, "True public safety starts with public stability. That means investing in our communities from the ground up by fully funding basic health and safety needs like housing, substance abuse services, nonviolent crisis response teams and public education."
Your vision can move forward as long as you are addressing other major issues in the city — like the thugs who are running the streets. Your vision for public safety cannot move forward until it includes everyone — including those just going about their daily lives trying to use their cars!
And that might mean allowing Mayor Jacob Frey the ability to pour $27 million into staffing up the MPD so there are enough people to do the job properly and protect law-abiding citizens.
Teresa Maki, Minnetonka
Unlike Steve Cramer and the wealthy corporations and developers he represents on the Minneapolis Downtown Council ("Grateful for his service," Readers Write, Dec. 9), many working people in this city welcome the bold voices of Wonsley Worlobah and other young activists willing to tell the truth.
The police regime in Minneapolis has been an attack on working-class and poor people for generations — across many different mayoral administrations and police chief terms. Arradondo was no different. His police murdered George Floyd in broad daylight in front a crowd of outraged citizens. His police hunted and attacked protesters and citizens on Lake Street. His police killed Dolal Idd in reckless circumstances in a crowded gas station lot. His police drugged some arrestees with ketamine without their permission, and failed to get a backlog of hundreds of rape kits tested.
Apparently the Downtown Council thinks that they can condescendingly dismiss any critic of the status quo, but arrogance is not armor against the reality of our city.
Kieran F. Knutson, Minneapolis
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